Monthly Archives: September 2009

I am furious about my bonus. I worked hard all year. My numbers were great, the best I’ve ever had. I had a high evaluation from my boss and coworkers. When I was told the (very low) figure, I didn’t complain because my boss assured me he had worked hard to give me as much as possible and I was getting more than people senior to me. I now find that others with worse performance got far more money. It seems the reason I was passed over was that he knew I would not make a fuss. Is it too late to raise hell? Can I mention others’ bonuses, although they are supposed to be confidential?

VP, female, 35

LUCY’S ANSWER

You think a bonus is a reward for doing a good job. In fact, it is a prize you get for playing a game that is complicated, skilful and highly political. The boss controls the money and information, and the players lobby to get the biggest slice.

The winners are the people who get the biggest bonuses, but neither the winners nor the losers will know for certain whether they have won or lost because the boss will tell everyone they have won, even if they haven’t. The result is mass dissatisfaction and paranoia. Secrecy and disinformation abound. Nearly everyone will pretend their bonus is larger than it really was – it may well be that yours is not quite so out of line as you fear.

Yet, from the wording of your question, I suspect you are an innocent at this game. Partly, this is due to your sex. When a woman is told her bonus, she tends to smile and say “thank you”. A man will look disappointed if he is pleased and throw a tantrum if he is disappointed.

A good player will start lobbying months in advance for next year’s figure. They will talk endlessly and loudly about their imaginary successes. They will drop hints about all the people who are trying to hire them. They will be seen everywhere.

It is too late for you to throw a tantrum about last year’s bonus and always a mistake to refer to the bonuses your colleagues allegedly got.

However, it is not too late to start playing for next year – if you have the stomach for it. It may be that you find the game so distasteful that you’d do better in another career where you’d get no bonus – but wouldn’t mind as no one else would get one either.

Recently, I became a manager of a small financial firm. Initially, my mainly male staff either resented me or flirted with me, but now I have won their respect. A week ago, I came to work a few hours early and was accosted by two men who pushed me inside and robbed me. They bound me up, gagged me and left me face down on the floor. I struggled with my usual determination but I could not get loose and had to lie there until four of my staff, arriving two hours later, found me still utterly tied up. They were considerate and sympathetic but my dignity and pride are demolished. I walk around the office trying to feel authoritative but I really just feel empty. How do I regain that feeling of competence?

Manager, female, 33

LUCY’S ANSWER

I like the way you describe your ordeal. You are cool, factual and not self-pitying. You weren’t afraid of your attackers; it is the response of your staff that frightens you.

I don’t find this at all odd. Having one’s staff see one as weak and vulnerable is humiliating. I can also see why you’re discombobulated by their sympathy. I nearly have a fit if anyone in the office says something as mild as “poor you” because I feel they are trying to get one over on me.

But I don’t think the four who untied you did necessarily see you as weak. I am also sure that their sympathy is not the undermining, political kind, but the simple sympathy one feels for anyone in a tight spot.

I am trying to imagine how I’d feel if I had found my boss tied up on the floor on arriving at work. I think, once I had untied her, I’d feel weird about it too, as if the natural order of things had been interrupted. I would want her to return to normal as soon as possible.

What happened was embarrassing for everyone and it is in everyone’s interests to draw a heavy veil over the whole thing. You say you feel empty, which isn’t surprising; that is what happens when one is in shock.

Most readers think you need counselling to help you come to terms with what happened, but I’m not at all convinced.

Instead, I think you need to fake it. Pretend to be exactly as you always were. In time, the memory will recede and you will find you aren’t pretending any more – you’ll be yourself again. And when you are, I believe your staff will think you are even tougher and more professional than they did before.

I’m not worried about your ability to get your authority back. But there is something else that concerns me. Do you really have to get in several hours before everyone else?

I’m dreadfully bored and depressed in my job.

I work for a big bank as a portfolio manager, and have nothing to do. I tried starting new projects but have been discouraged by management. So I spend my time writing a script and studying but the fact that I have about 10 hours of work a week is killing me.

I can’t quit as I need the salary. The only way out is to get myself sacked, since the legally required pay­-off where I live is huge. This would allow me to take a more interesting job on lower pay. But how do I it? The company is satisfied with my work and colleagues love me.

Portfolio manager, male, 28

LUCY’S ANSWER

You are full of surprises. First I’m surprised that you can do your work quite so quickly. I thought that deciding what to invest in meant doing an open-ended amount of homework.

I’m also surprised to hear that your colleagues like you so much. In my experience, people tend not to be especially keen on their overachieving workmates. If I were sitting next to someone who despatched his work to the bosses’ satisfaction in a couple of hours and then spent the rest of the day writing scripts and studying, I wouldn’t feel too warmly towards him.

And finally I’m surprised that you need so much money. Isn’t the point of portfolio management that you get paid quite a lot for it? Unless you are also overachieving at sowing your seeds and already have four children, then surely you can afford to take a worse paid job?

Despite the above, I’m still prepared to feel sorry for you. Having too little to do is a kind of torture and is far worse than having too much to do. However, trying to get sacked isn’t the option. In most countries, getting fired for doing your work badly – let alone for having your hand in the till or up someone’s skirt – means you don’t get a bean. If you are made redundant you do get a pay-off – but if the bank isn’t trying to lay people off, this may be hard.

The best option is to tell your boss exactly how much spare time you have. If he has any sense he will respond by giving you a lot more to do. Or else he will mark you down as an annoying upstart and will only be too glad to edge you out when the next round of redundancies comes round.

I’m about to turn 30 and have just married my partner of 11 years. We both feel emotionally ready to start a family but having a child in my current job is going to be hard as I work long hours and have a long commute. I work for a male-dominated SME and there is no precedent for working flexibly.

I could look for a job nearer to home, but I love my work and new jobs are scarce. My husband is a civil servant and has brilliant flexible working entitlements, but I would resent it if he took on a strong paternal role and I was the one always out at work keeping the income coming in. How do other women juggle these conflicting demands, emotions and priorities?

Professional, female, 29

LUCY’S ANSWER

The answer is that other women mostly manage with difficulty. In my acquaintance there are mothers who work a lot, who work a little and who don’t work at all. Variously, they have husbands who help out a great deal, who do nothing – or they don’t have husbands at all.

It struck me recently that the happiest are the women who do little or no paid work and concentrate on their children. But then I realised they are the least ambitious and so are likely to be happiest anyway. The next happiest are the ones with successful full-time jobs, who let their husbands and nannies take charge at home.

The least happy are the ones who are both doggedly committed to work and who want to be proper mothers too. Trying to do both usually means the mother will be in tears before bedtime, even if the children are not.

It sounds as if you are in the third, miserable category. You want everything and think there must be a way of ordering your life now to make it possible. It would be better if you let go of this idea now. Go ahead and procreate and then see how things are when the baby is born. You can have no idea now how motherhood will take you. You may find the “male-dominated” business seems less attractive. Or you may find your heart leaps in gratitude when your husband volunteers to spend more time at home.

Whatever you do, you’ll almost certainly feel guilty. Don’t push the guilt away, but welcome it as a self-correcting mechanism. It is a reminder that when work seems overwhelmingly exciting there is someone at home who wants attention. And a reminder, when one has been too tired and distracted to focus on work, that there is a salary being paid that ought to be earned.

Dear Lucy

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Lucy Kellaway, FT columnist and associate editor, offers her solution to your workplace problems in a fortnightly column in the Financial Times. In this weekly online edition of her 'agony aunt' column, readers are invited to have a say too. Read more about Dear Lucy here.

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